Voters (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)
It’s been nearly a year since New York City was almost entirely shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, only essential services like health care, transportation, and food services remained open. We witnessed so many heroes step up to keep our city functioning and help us remain safe and secure. Among them are the half-a-million immigrants who have been on the frontline in hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores, subways and busses, and more.
As New York City moves towards rebuilding its economy, we have an opportunity to create a more inclusive recovery by fully integrating into our civic life the immigrants who are helping us survive this pandemic, giving them a voice in shaping the policies that affect their lives. If we are serious about creating the culture of civic participation our city needs in order to function as a healthy democracy, we must expand democracy’s foundation.
New York City can do this by restoring the right to vote in local elections to the nearly 1 million legal permanent residents who call the city home.
Although 40% of our city was born abroad, we have never centered immigrants in our narratives, and certainly not in our city’s policies and budgets. Elected officials know they can safely ignore those without voting power, so problems remain unsolved and unaddressed election after election. The result is the predictable disengagement that comes from not feeling wholly belonging to the very place one calls home.
Despite the fact that many immigrants in the Big Apple are our city’s parents, students, workers, and small business owners, these New Yorkers have been unfairly denied the right to shape their community. As a further testament to how vital immigrants are to our city, non-citizen New Yorkers represent one in five frontline, essential workers who are literally risking their lives to keep us healthy and keep our city functioning during the ongoing pandemic.
New Yorkers like Hina Naveed deserve a say in how their public transportation works, how often their trash gets picked up, and how schools are run. Hina, a Pakistani immigrant and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, was on the frontlines during the height of the pandemic last year working in a Brooklyn hospital and a Staten Island nursing home. While many of us were lucky enough to work safely from home, during the height of our public health crisis, Hina took care of sick patients and comforted the elderly who were lonely and missing their families during New York City’s shutdown. But despite her contributions as an essential worker, she’s excluded from the process of how our neighborhoods and elected officials respond to a devastating crisis like the one that we are experiencing now.
How can we expect to have a fair and just covid recovery if 1 million taxpaying New Yorkers like Hina don’t have a say in demining who will make those recovery decisions? How can we expect to address issues of police reform, affordable housing, equitable land use, and educational disparities if elected officials know they can still get elected while ignoring one out of every nine New Yorkers?
The City Council and Mayor must pass Intro. 1867 and give these immigrant New Yorkers a voice and real political power and they’ll make sure our elected officials are truly accountable — not just to the privileged few, but to every one of us, especially the 1 million New Yorkers who have been effectively silenced for decades. Together we can build a city that reflects and works for all of us. And in the process, we can energize our civic life, and make a statement to the rest of the world about what a 21st century democracy should look like.